Revelation

Tuesday Devotional: Amos 5

 

Amos 5:18 bible

18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.

 

Judgment is swift and final.  In court, the gavel falls, in one fell swoop the verdict is announced and the sentencing established.  No more arguments.  No more pleas.  No more discussion.  Final.

This is not an easy teaching and only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we understand the justification for judgment and eternal sentencing.  We often cannot fathom a judgment so unfair and cruel.  However, that tells us not that God’s judgment is unfair and cruel but that we also cannot fathom God’s holiness and our sinfulness.  If I only eat sweets from birth, I will never understand how sweet “sweet” actually is until someone introduces me to salt for the first time.  The judgment of God will come, but many even at that time will not believe and will not turn from their sin to submit themselves to a holy and good Abba father.  All will be judged and many will fall on the side of the guilty.  The world has never seen a judgment like the one that awaits it.  Our minds cannot imagine it and it is by the grace of God that it has only been revealed to us in small doses, for the reality of what will transpire would be too much for us to bear.  It is also by the grace of God that we look around us today and see that the day of God’s judgment has not yet fallen on this world.

It is tempting to view Christianity through the same lens of escapism that often accompanies other religions, philosophies or worldviews.  Christianity does not consist of waiting patiently and righteously until the last day.  The Christian abiding in Jesus Christ will live every day consumed by two thoughts.  Am I loving God with all my heart, soul and mind?  Am I loving my neighbor as myself?  In other words, am I doing everything I can to love God and make my election and calling sure?  Am I doing everything I can to proclaim to the world through my words and deeds that Jesus is the only way through the impending cauldron of judgment?

It will truly be a glorious sight to see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven.  However, His return ushers in the time of death, grief, suffering and sorrow that even Heaven was perfectly silent for 30 minutes at the opening of the seventh seal.  We have been given the charge to save the lost, heal the sick, free captives and preach good news to the brokenhearted through our devotion to Jesus Christ.  God does not desire that any should perish; neither should we.  The non-believers in our midst are our brothers and sisters in creation.  They are loved dearly by our Father and we are to show them the way of Jesus, saving them from eternal damnation.  There will be a day of no more second chances.  This will be a dreadful day.  As children of God we should never wish this day upon anyone nor refuse to save as many as we possibly can from it.  Justice for the wicked will be just and God’s creation will be made new.  However, we must understand that His justice is often more far-reaching than we imagine.  His judgment will fall upon every person and “good” will not be good enough.  There is only Jesus on that day.

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Revelation 2

Read Revelation 2:1-7bible

What does it mean to be a Christian?  What does it mean to have faith in Christ?  What does it mean to go to church?  What does it mean to read the Bible?  What does it mean to serve as Christ served?   What does it mean to desire heaven and fear hell?

What does any of it mean?

Why would a person go through day after day after day consumed by such things?  Is it to stay busy in a world of drifting and laziness?  Is it to find purpose in a life of wandering and ever-changing directions?  Is it to right wrongs that we know deep down exist in order to sleep at night?  Is it submission to an authority figure in our lives that we strive to impress?

Christians do a lot.  Christians are very busy people consumed by their Christian lives, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a horribly misguided, useless existence if the Christian is caught up in what they can do and not what Jesus Christ can do.  The foundation of Christianity and of every Christian must be the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And this life, death and resurrection occurred for no other cause than outrageous love.  Therefore, a Christian’s busy-ness must only stem from the love received from Christ and returned to him.  Understanding the relationship between man and God is no different than understanding relationships between people.  A relationship built on activity and productivity is empty and futile without love.  Love between people is not just the product of that relationship, but the fuel that propels the relationship forward.  Similarly, a relationship built on anything other than this received and returned love is not the relationship that God desires.

The debate between faith and works has been waged since the early church and will continue until Christ returns.  In a true relationship, one overwhelmed and overcome by the love freely given us by Jesus Christ, there is no possibility of service void of love.  The love that we received from him on the cross is returned to him in our transformed lives. The selfless nature that operates in ours works devoted service to him as proof of our commitment to loving him with everything we have, because he loved us first.

The Impossible Religion: Purpose

Straight-Road

source

This reflection series,  “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:

Impossible Purpose (Revelation 4)

The Book of Revelation is one of the most difficult books in the entire Bible to read and understand.  It is filled with symbolism that is not only hard for us to picture mentally, but hard for us to understand spiritually.  Amidst the creatures, events and objects found throughout John’s vision is one simple image repeated: a Lamb on a throne.

The lamb is actually absent from Chapter 4, appearing first in Chapter 5.  However, what we do see is that the throne in the vision is important and extremely valuable.  The throne is the centerpiece of heaven.  The throne is the reason for everything surrounding it.  Without the throne nothing else matters, and nothing else makes sense.

In the first section of this series we learned about the Nazirite vow, the vow of complete and unwavering devotion to the most-high God.  We also learned that the Nazirite, in a life of selfless sacrifice and devotion, was ever aware of the shortcomings of the human heart in the “Creator-Creation” relationship.  Although these individuals devoted themselves to living for God completely, they knew that regardless of all of the sacrifices, actions and words, they could never overcome sin through deeds of their own.  The presence of sin in a life of pure devotion is due to the broken original covenant between God and man. Something had to be done in order to reconcile the sin in each of us with the overwhelming presence and purity of God.

The way in which the ancient Israelites acknowledged this need was through animal sacrifices.

When I read the Bible for the first time I was caught up on certain issues that left me scratching my head in confusion and disbelief.  Certain things made sense and certain things were understandable, albeit foreign to me.  Animal sacrifices were one issue that I wrestled with, and I eventually resigned this area of scripture as a subject left in mystery.  I simply could not understand the need or purpose for such unthinkable amounts of animal death.

I love meat (and I actually love lamb). However, my animal-loving self sided with all of these helpless lambs being sacrificed for the sake of human sins.  It simply did not seem fair.

Imagine you pull out of a parking lot and scratch the car parked next to yours, causing visible damage.  As you evaluate the damage done to the other car, the owner of the damaged car arrives and sees that you are responsible for the damage. You have been caught as the responsible party, and prepare yourself for the repercussions.  But the owner spots a young child walking by and places the responsibility of paying for the damage on her (stay with me here). Now, the owner claims, it is the child’s responsibility to pay for the damage.

Naturally, we would protest and demand that the responsibility be placed back where it belongs, and to let the child go free.

This is how I viewed the lambs.  I felt that to put the mistakes of a man on the life of an innocent animal seemed cruel and unfair.  Until, that is, I found what awaited me on the hill called Golgotha.

There are many references to Jesus as a “lamb” in the Bible, whether directly or through implication.  John the Baptist referred to Jesus the first time he saw him as, the Lamb of God.  Isaiah referred to the Messiah as being, “led like a Lamb to the slaughter.” Also, Jesus hosted a Passover dinner with his disciples that distinctly required the presence of Lamb on the table to be served, however, at this particular Passover meal there was no Lamb to be found except Jesus saying that it was his duty to be “broken for them.”

The timing of Jesus’ execution was also interesting, given that on the Passover the Lamb was to be sacrificed by each family to remember the protective qualities of the Lamb’s blood on the doorframes during the Exodus that protected each Israelite from the plague of death and brought them into new life in the promised land.  Each sacrificed Lamb on Passover was to be sacrificed without defect or broken bones.  In an attempt to hasten the death of the criminals adorning the crosses on Golgotha, the knees of all but one were broken.  Jesus’ bones were left untouched. Not until I saw Jesus fulfill the role of the sacrificial Lamb did I gain perspective on the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.

I reflected on my sympathy for the innocent lambs, and was confounded by the fact that hanging on the cross was not an animal, nothing in common with myself.  The sacrifice hanging on the cross was a human being.   This man understood the words of those who sacrificed him.   He understood the realities of the suffering and injustice he was facing.  Above all, he was slaughtered with love and prayers on his lips for those who deserved no such compassion.  He had no place being hung from a tree, and every right and reason to demand justice and freedom from such a responsibility.  Yet, the story unfolded differently: “the Lamb” remained silent.

In Revelation 4, we find a magnificent throne, adored and praised by all in its presence.  On the throne sits a Lamb who willfully gave his life for a creation that willfully chose to sacrifice him.  It is the throne toward which all Scripture points, and it is on the Lamb who occupies it that all creation rests.  Without the Lamb, without Jesus, Christianity is in fact an “impossible religion.”  Without Jesus we are instantly overburdened by the expectations of our faith.  Without Jesus, the standards are impossible to reflect in our daily lives.  Without Jesus, we will never trust this stranger God with our everything.  Without Jesus, we will never be changed by the claim of resurrection beyond momentary inspiration or habitual tradition.  Without Jesus, the purpose of our lives, why we are called to live the way we are, will ever remain unknown to us, and will collapse under doubt and distrust.

Christianity is not an impossible religion.  At its center is a God who came to us as Jesus Christ in order to share with us “the good news.”  This good news claims the power to transform a life that goes beyond our power to change ourselves.  Because of the slain Lamb, this “good news” claims things that no other religion dares to.  The God of creation lowered himself to be one with us.  He called himself Immanuel, God with us.

As the final hours of his life drew near, Jesus told Governor Pilate that “everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  Christianity is impossible only if we refuse to listen to this truth.  If we choose to stop and listen to the message, Christianity has the power to achieve the impossible.

Previews and Promises: Confident Claims

For the rest of this series, go here and here.

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Movie previews are great at making the particular featured movie seem like the best movie ever made, ever. It doesn’t matter if the actors in the movie have a track record of box office busts or if the director has “lost his touch.”  During those two minutes, anyone can look like a genius. I remember a few years ago there was a lot of hype about two movies. The first movie was a science fiction movie, “Cloverfield.” The preview for this movie had a lot of people talking and the hype was impossible to avoid. The other was a movie called, “The Happening.” This movie was from the director M. Knight Shyamalan, of such box office hits as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.”  Many people were talking about how great this movie looked and how excited they were to see it. However, when both movies were released, audiences were largely disappointed. Moviegoers felt taken by the timeless “preview” illusion.

Throughout our lives we will all experience setbacks, obstacles that try our patience, strength and character. As time progresses, many often resign to the particular belief that, “thus is life.” There is a resignation to a belief that some things just go wrong. People get hurt, things don’t work out and there is ultimately nothing we can do about it. But the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible we read that we all can experience the fruit of the Spirit during our time on Earth, and that in Heaven, suffering, pain, sadness and injustice will be reversed and undone.

Heaven promises a reemergence or renewal of the original state of existence, an existence void of all of the things unwelcome in this life like pain and suffering. There is a reason why, regardless of our differing religious beliefs, we all are so uncomfortable with crimes against the innocent and the breaking of a heart. The Bible explains that this inner distaste for such things lies at the heart of our original state within the original creation. We are troubled because we were not made for this place. We are troubled because this “preview life” is only a preview with foretastes, but not the actual full-length feature. Paul expands on this point in his letter to the Philippians:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John is given visions of this final recreation and return to the original creation.  The visions of John support the claims of Jesus in regards to the final act of “recreation” and “regeneration.” 

Revelation 5:9-13

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,  and they will reign[a] on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 21:4

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 Revelation 22:1-5

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

These scriptures describe a place that, regardless of your religion or spirituality, all of us desire. Death, sickness, heartbreak, tears and pain are universally despised. These Scriptures offer a glimpse of a place that seems far too good to be true. The Word of God makes truly radical, yet confident claims about what awaits those who “die in the Lord.” Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate good, and is a reality to all of us that seek a place where such things cease to exist.